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TR Symposium highlights Roosevelt’s revolutionary campaigning techniques

An estimated 80 million people tuned into TVs Monday night to watch the 2016 presidential debate. But on Friday night in Dickinson, another debate will take the center stage.

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An estimated 80 million people tuned into TVs Monday night to watch the 2016 presidential debate. But on Friday night in Dickinson, another debate will take the center stage.

The 11th annual Theodore Roosevelt Symposium kicks off on Thursday evening and will feature its own debate Friday at 7 p.m.

Clay Jenkinson will portray the 26th president pitted against William Jennings Bryan to portray the 1900 campaign when Roosevelt ran as vice president for William McKinley.

He said the symposium's theme this year "Theodore Roosevelt: Candidate in the Arena" is interesting since it coincides with a presidential election year.

"When we chose the theme, we knew this was the presidential election year," he said. "We had no idea it would be a crazy one. We are trying contrast how elections worked in Roosevelt's time and how they work today."

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While presidential campaigning now can last up to two years in this day in time with potential candidates traversing the country trying to build up voters, it wasn't always like this.

Sharon Kilzer, the Theodore Roosevelt Center project manager, said Roosevelt hugely impacted presidential campaigns by getting out and meeting the common people in their environment.

"Prior to Roosevelt, presidents stayed at home," she said. "For instance, William McKinley stayed at home and campaigned from his front porch and the media came to him. Roosevelt, as McKinley's vice presidential candidate, made a huge leap across the country and did whistle stop campaign tours across the entire U.S. campaigning on McKinley's behalf as his vice president."

Roosevelt was the first president to make a cross-country travel to campaign. Jenkinson said Roosevelt traveled more than 14,000 miles and gave hundreds of speeches in 24 states, which was unheard of at the time.

Jenkinson also said Roosevelt never shied away from visiting states or communities where people were against his politics.

"There were places where his policies were hated, where he and McKinley were thought to be completely muddled by what the country needed," he said. "Even in those places, the people just adored him. There was just something about him - the charisma."

Jenkinson said Roosevelt is a stark contrast to the two candidates running for the presidential office in 2016.

"I think this theme is really going to make sense to people - excite people because I think almost every American now is kind of bewildered. 'How did we get to this spot where we have two of the most undesirable political candidates in American history and everyone has to hold their nose and vote for whoever they find less awful,'" he said.

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While Saturday participants to the symposium will see Roosevelt come to life-with Don Moon portraying Bryan-Kilzer said there are other topics and discussions people can attend for free.

Authors Stacy Cordery, Paul Grondahl, Gerard Helferich, John Hilpert and Louise Knight will lead group discussions and provide insights into the books they have authored dedicated to the theme of the symposium.

Kilzer said while it may appear to be a scholarly event, the symposium is directed toward everyday people with either vast knowledge or no knowledge of one of America's beloved presidents.

"It's really meant for the average person to come and just have a conversation about our lives together as American citizens and what can we learn from looking back at the past for our own politics today," she said. "We just really believe that anyone can enjoy this."

A schedule of the events can be found at www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org .

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